Five years ago, as I was interviewing to become MCC’s next settled pastor, the search committee gave Rachel and me a tour of Sudbury. We saw many of the town’s landmarks: the High School, the elementary school and some of the shops in town. Then, they drove us out towards Marlboro and right before we hit the edge of town, they turned right down a wooded road that led to the Wayside Inn. We could have taken the fork in the road a few hundred feet back but Marilyn and Sharon knew that this path was the most dramatic way to make their presentation.
I remember rounding the curve and seeing the Grist Mill for the first time. New England in the late fall, a historic stone building with a majestic red water wheel. It made quite an impression on me.
In the years since, my family has had picnics on the lawn, we’ve watched the rubber duck races, and explored the area around the mill. We’ve also gone inside. The building is a working mill and if you’ve ever had the opportunity to go in you’ve seen the 18-century machinery that harnesses the power of the flowing water outside to make flour on the inside. The giant red water wheel turns the gears and powers a large millstone whose immense weight presses against another stone and grinds wheat into flour for use in the Inn’s restaurant. Outside of the mill there’s a display of millstones that I assume have been used in the past and worn down. The millstones are about four or five feet in diameter and solid stone. I’ve never tried to pick one up but they sure do look really heavy.
In the first reading that Sandra shared with us this morning from Luke’s gospel, Jesus says to his disciples that it would be better if a millstone were tied around a person’s neck and he or she be thrown into the sea than for that person to become the source of temptation. Some other translations use the word “sin” instead of “temptation” here: in other words, if we teach a child or another person to sin, it would be better if we had a millstone tied around our neck and thrown into the sea.
Immediately after giving this dramatic statement, Jesus begins talking about forgiveness. “If your brother sins [against you], confront him about it, and if he has a change of mind and heart, then forgive him. Even if he wrongs you seven times in a single day, if he turns back to you each time and says he’s sorry and will change, you must forgive him.”
In one breath, Jesus says that this is the worst thing we could ever do – it would
be better if we were to drown with a heavy stone around our neck if we sin – and in the next he tells us that we need to forgive anyone who has done such a thing to us; even if they do it again and again.
Throughout Lent we’ve been talking about developing new habits of love and forgiveness. We’ve talked about the importance of forgiving others, finding ways to forgive ourselves, and asking for forgiveness when we’ve wronged another. We’ve admitted that all of these actions are difficult.
It’s hard to say “I’m sorry, I was wrong.” It’s hard to say “You hurt me but I forgive you.” It’s hard to be vulnerable and to say “I’ve made mistakes but I am worthy of love and belonging.”
But when we can’t find the courage to say those difficult statements; when we are afraid to forgive, it’s like we’ve tied a millstone around our own neck. When we go through life holding grudges and obsessing about the ways that we’ve been hurt, we force ourselves to carry a heavy weight that presses and grinds on our heart.
When we’re in the midst of suffering, when we’ve been hurt, it may seem like carrying that heavy stone would be easier than trying to move it. It seems easier to try and live with the pain than to do something about it. Or maybe, like the two Marys and Salome on the way to the tomb, we’re wondering if there is someone else who can roll away the stone for us.
If someone else has hurt us, we want them to take the responsibility to move the stone. But the truth is no one can move it for us; the only way to roll the stone of our chest is by forgiving others – even if they don’t apologize or ask for our forgiveness. If we’ve caused pain to ourselves or another, that rock may seem impossibly large and heavy. We can take the weight off of our chest by asking others to forgive us and by forgiving ourselves.
It seems impossible, but here’s the good news: we are not alone. It won’t be as miraculous and easy as it was for the women at the tomb – the stone won’t be rolled away for us – but God is with us, Jesus has taught us what we have to do, the Holy Spirit flows through us giving us the strength to do what must be done.
We can choose to continue dragging the heavy millstone of revenge and pain and blame around our neck. We can keep returning to the tomb and reliving the pain.
We can go back again and again to those raw, hurting parts of our lives and expect to find our souls battered and beaten as if we’ve been tortured and executed. We can doubt ourselves and never believe that we’re strong enough to move that rock.
Or when we encounter those thoughts and memories that wound us, we can hear the angel’s words, echoing what Jesus said so many times before, “Do not be afraid.” We can dig in our heels, gather up our strength and roll away the stone. We can hear Jesus’ call to forgive over and over again, just has God has given us another chance and another chance and another chance to do better.
The millstones at the Grist Mill in Sudbury and large and heavy and could cause some real damage if used the wrong way. But when used properly, they transform wheat to flour. Forgiveness can change us.
When you find yourself faced with challenges, when you recognize that your thoughts are hitting a wall and you can’t get past the hurt, remind yourself to roll away the stone.
Roll away the stone this Easter and be transformed.
We can find new life by letting go of old hurts. Gather up your courage, don’t be afraid to come to the tomb that holds all of those old wounds and move that weight off of your heart. By examining our thoughts and feelings, by doing the hard work of forgiving ourselves, by asking for forgiveness and by forgiving others the same way we hope to be forgiven, we can find new life! We can be resurrected this Easter!
Do not be afraid! Be transformed, be reborn! Roll away the stone! Can I get a Hallelujah!